MARCEL: THE SHELL WITH SHOES ON

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Dean Fleischer-Camp

Stars: Dean Fleischer-Camp, Rosa Salazar, Thomas Mann, Brian Williams, Lesley Stahl, voices of Jenny Slate, Isabella Rossellini.

Marcel the Shell with Shoes On, Auckland

This cute and clever mockumentary about an anthromorphic one-inch-tall shell uses stop motion photography and state of the art animation to good effect, resulting in a quirky and surreal film that will amuse and entertain audiences of all ages. 

Marcel is an adorable little shell with a single googly eye that lives in an Air BnB house along with his grandmother Connie and a piece of lint he has named Alan. Marcel is curious, kind, thoughtful, eternally optimistic and resourceful. He is discovered by Dean, an amateur documentary filmmaker who moves into the house after the previous tenants (played by Rosa Salazar and Thomas Mann) left abruptly. Dean has just undergone a messy divorce. When he finds Marcel his curiosity is piqued. He shoots a short video featuring the mollusk and uploads it to YouTube. Marcel becomes an overnight cult sensation.   

But then Dean begins to learn more about Marcel’s personal story. He learns that there used to be a whole community of shells living on the property, but then they mysteriously vanished. Around the same time as the previous tenant left Dean begins a campaign to help Marcel find his missing family, using social media and respected journalists like 60 Minutes’ stalwart Lesley Stahl, who is, coincidentally, Marcel’s favourite journalist.  

Marcel began life as a series of short videos created by actress Jenny Slate and her former husband filmmaker Dean Fleischer-Camp way back in 2010 and the character became an instant sensation. There were three short online videos featuring the character as well as a series of best-selling books. This feature film adaptation expanding on the character has taken some seven years to bring to fruition. Written by Slate, Fleischer-Camp and Nick Paley, the film deals with some universal themes of family, community, the transformational power of love and loss, grief, resilience. And it delivers some life lessons along the way. 

There is not much to the plot here, as Marcel seems to often talk in a stream of consciousness as he tries to make sense out of life and his surroundings. Slate herself provides the voice for Marcel and imbues the character with a real sense of childlike innocence, curiosity, emotion and pain, and imbues the character with a real personality. Much of the dialogue was seemingly improvised during early planning stages and incorporated into the script. Fleischer-Camp plays the filmmaker Dean, a thinly fictionalised version of himself. Isabella Rossellini provides the voice for his kindly but ailing grandmother Connie. And real-life journalists like MSNBC’s Brian Wiliams and Stahl play themselves. 

Marcel: The Shell With Shoes On marks the feature debut for Fleischer-Camp, a former editor, after a series of short films and television work. Cinematographer Bianca Chine shot the live action sequences, while Eric Adkin was largely responsible for the painstaking and time-consuming stop motion footage which has been seamlessly incorporated into the live action footage. 

While it is undeniably a clever and charming concept that will certainly enchant younger audiences, Marcel: The Shell With Shoes On does have a dark edge to it at times. However, it becomes a a bit repetitive and little less interesting when the thin material is stretched out to 80 minutes. 

★★★

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